Achieving Happiness

James Oppenheimer once wrote that “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.” In a similar fashion, Eleanor Roosevelt said that “Happiness is not a goal, it’s a byproduct”. Every major and minor philosopher and religious leader agrees that happiness has to come from within, yet millions of people still maintain that happiness is one of the goals in their lives. Maybe by winning the jackpot, being successful, or finding their one true love. Well, happiness as moved from the metaphysical to the scientific, and newest research suggests that happiness can be found much nearer than previously thought.

When we say we want to be happy, we don’t really tend to think about what happens once we are. The human brain is wired up, biologically speaking, to notice change and to quickly become accustomed to the status quo. That would mean that once we are happy (after external event X has happened), it would only last so long. And true enough, research done on lotto winners showed that after about 3 months, people reverted back to their “baseline” of being. So it seems that outside events do have a temporary impact, and additional to that, there is this other little problem…

Many times we also tend to notice negative aspects more than positive ones. Speaking in terms of evolutions, this makes perfect sense, as a negative change might signal the onset of danger. Hence, we tend to take positive experiences for granted and focus our attention more on the negative or bothersome aspects of life. What to do?

Here is where modern western psychology has incorporated the eastern concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to being in the present moment, in the now, experiencing one particular moment in time fully. While this might sound vague and ambiguous, we have all had experiences like this. We are being mindful when we do a task we get completely absorbed in, so much so that we do not notice time passing, and are fully engaged with what we are doing. Sometimes, this is also referred to as being “in flow” or “in the zone”. The more you experience this, the better you will feel about yourself…

Recent research has also linked happiness and success, not in a linear fashion, but more a cybernetic relationship. Success does bring with it happiness, but happiness is needed in order to succeed in the first place. So, it is impossible to have one without the other.

The bottom line is, just be! Forget that past, stop worrying about the future, and enjoy your present moment fully. This idea is not only backed by thousands of years of philosophical pondering and thinking, but also by newest research in the field of “positive psychology”….I guess, all that is left is to quote Edith Wharton:”If only we’d stop trying to be happy we’d have a pretty good time!”

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One thought on “Achieving Happiness

  1. I can never remember where it’s from (possibly Khalil Gibran) or how the quote actually goes so I end up paraphrasing less poetically, but there’s a line that goes:
    There is happiness to be found sitting in the shade under trees, but there is much more to be found by planting your own trees.

    I’ve always liked it (despite my faulty memory).
    Still, that first Oppenheimer quote is excellent and there is a lot of truth in this article.
    Thanks.

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